What is a tree worth to your school community?

Your school, your values

What a school places value on can say a lot of about the culture and community of that school. How much you value trees and the environment is about more than being a tree hugger or hippie.

It’s the time of year, in Australia and New Zealand, when everything in school just seems to get busier and busier. Exams are done and dusted. Transition to the next year level will be happening soon. Teachers and students are gearing up for end-of-year performances. And administrators are working hard to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on the school year.

In the US, UK, Canada and the other countries where schools use ParentPaperwork the school year isn’t ending but the calendar year is. Students and teachers attention is moving towards Christmas and/or the holidays and spending time with family and friends.

For those in the southern climes, the focus in December is around back to school and being ready administratively for the new school year.

In the midst of all this rush and bustle, it’s good to take a step back and ask yourself what the values driving your school will be in 2017?

So many schools we reach out to still use antiquated processes, particularly when dealing with governance and compliance matters that could all be dealt with in a much more organised, efficient and effective way by using an online platform like ParentPaperwork.

Costs of the old way can be hidden from view

And continuing to do things the old way has hidden costs. Earlier this year we took a look at these hidden costs and created our cost calculator. Want to know how much you could be saving in financial, environmental and labour costs by using ParentPaperwork to handle all your forms? Just plug your student numbers in to our calculator  and take a look.

Something that rides a trend wave of interest and then at times disappears from view, is the effect schools have on the environment. Just what impact does your school have on the environment? Could things be done differently or better? What are some easy ways to reduce environmental burden in school settings? What is the low hanging fruit you could pick in terms of making your school fully sustainable?

ParentPaperwork was created out of a philosophy that schools are important and special places in our communities and that how we run them can have a material beneficial impact to the environment and sustainability.

Since the beginning of the year ParentPaperwork has handled over 1.2 million forms on behalf of our schools customers. Consider that many of these are multi-page if sent by paper. We estimate that in 2016 schools using ParentPaperwork have saved the planet circa 2.5 million pieces of paper.

In a school with 1000 students, using ParentPaperwork as your forms solution will be a huge step towards taking your school paperless. And it will also mean that 7 trees didn’t get cut down this year. If you use ParentPaperwork for 5 years, that’s 35 trees, a copse or small forest.

If you’re not swayed by the cost savings argument yet, maybe you’ll think about your values and how much a tree, copse or forest matters to your school community?

A Schooling in Green: printing

The humble printer and photocopier can be a mini blackhole when it comes to expenses.

Many of us have worked in offices where the printing room is an unsupervised hotbed of wasted paper and ink. But, when it comes to schools, often the amount of wastage is multiplied, thanks to unnecessary printing of resources that could be handled electronically.

We’ve looked previously at the monetary costs associated with printing in school environments, which quoted Microsoft’s Education Marketing Manager Ray Fleming, who stated that schools often spend more on printing than they do on IT:

“An average school will use 1m sheets of paper a year and spend £60,000 (AUD $120k) on photocopying but only £56,000 (AUD $110k) on IT.”

The environmental cost of this amount of paper use is startling enough, but when we consider the additional burden of disposing of printer toner and ink cartridges, we can start to understand the immense size of the problem.

According to not-for-profit Australian environmental foundation, Planet Ark, Australians throw away more than 18 million printer cartridges every year. This equates to over 5,000 tonnes of non-biodegradable material that ends up as landfill. Compounding the issue is the fact that, when these cartridges break apart, they can potentially contaminate groundwater and the environment.

In the UK, it is estimated only 15% of the 65 million printer cartridges sold each year are recycled.


For your health

Another often-ignored danger of printing is the affect it can have on your health.

Toner ink can contain carcinogens such as ‘carbon black’ – a dust that isn’t exposed during normal use but can be released if a cartridge is mishandled, and they can also emit carbon monoxide when overheated or place in poorly ventilated areas.

Studies have looked into the effects of sitting in close proximity to a printer and found there is a possibility of illness from spending long periods of time near printers, especially if not set up or used properly.

What can be done?

Thankfully, there is a lot that schools can do to help the environment when it comes to printing.

In Australia, Cartridges 4 Planet Ark is a recycling program for toner and ink cartridges that has collected and recycled over 28 million cartridges since its inception. The program offers collection bins for schools that use a lot of cartridges and have drop-off points at many participating stores. They also have competitions for schools that participate, offering prizes made from cartridges they have recycled.

Also in Australia and the US, Close the Loop is a recycling program that turns used cartridges into products as diverse as pens, garden benches and even tarmac. In the US alone, the program has recovered close to 69,000 tonnes of material that otherwise would have gone to landfill. They too offer collection boxes for cartridge recovery.

In the US, most major ink and toner cartridge manufacturers will also offer a service to collect and recycle your used cartridges. In the UK, companies such as The Recycling Factory and Recycling 4 Charity will take your used cartridges, and even have programs aimed at schools.

There are many options when it comes to staying green within your school. Creating a program to collect and recycle your ink and toner cartridges is something simple that can have a huge positive impact on the environment. Of course, finding ways to reduce your use of printers and photocopiers should always be the first step in any attempt to make your school more sustainable.

Ask us how the ParentPaperwork system is contributing to environmental sustainability in schools.

A Schooling in Green: paper

It’s no secret schools and paper are intrinsically linked – but neither needs the other in order to survive. In fact, it may be time to make paper an endangered species.

Paper is not only a financial burden on schools but the production, deforestation and waste creates a massive carbon footprint. The good news is: schools can green up their act.

But first, a schooling in math.

The amount of paper used in the classroom varies from country to country. In the US, the average classroom uses 25,000 sheets of paper per year, which equals 833 pieces of paper per student.

Now, if one tree makes 8,333 sheets of paper, that means three trees are being used in every single US classroom per annum. That’s a lot of trees, especially when you consider recycling one ton of paper, which is about 20 full-grown trees, saves enough energy to heat an average home for six months.

And it’s not just the trees that are disappearing. Water is a vital ingredient when it comes to the production of trees. In Australia, to make just one ton of paper, over 90,000 litres of precious water are used, which will fill 450 rain barrels.

Modern paper also involves chemicals for bleaching and, once these chemical-laden products go to the landfill after use, it produces dangerous greenhouse gases during decomposition.

All these numbers are not meant to induce fear – they are simply painting a picture of paper consumption in schools. And based on the math, it’s time to make a change.

So how do you build an army of green warriors at your school?


Learn to love math

A lesson in accounting is the best way to spearhead a sustainable charge. Review your current paper situation. Look at not only how much paper you use but how much paper you waste.

In the UK, the average secondary school produces 22kg of waste per student each academic year. The figure for primary schools is even higher at 45kg per student.

Ashford Secondary School in the UK did their part. They put two lead teachers in charge of Year 7 students to conduct a waste audit, realised they were tossing way too much in the landfill and came up with an action plan.

The school ended up saving nine tons of CO2 emissions per school year through a recycling program.

Educate about trees

Trees are a big part of our collective environments. They produce oxygen, shade, decoration and, if you’re a kid, they are fun to climb.

It’s important to educate students on the impact of paper production on the environment as it is a global problem. The largest producer countries – US, China, Japan and Canada – alone make up more than half of the world’s paper production, which is 400 million tons a year.

According to our earlier calculations, that’s around eight billion trees.

Raise awareness by putting deforestation in perspective. If students cannot imagine that only about 22 percent of the world’s old growth forests remain intact, ask them to imagine a world without trees.

Do something, even if it’s small

After the review and education processes, schools need to take action, even if it is to save one litre of water, one tree or put recycling bins next to every printer.

The simplest way to make a change is to reduce paper-dependent processes and activities with digital alternatives. Go to step one and think about what you have that can go paperless.

Reports and transcripts? Paperless. Permission slips for activities and excursions? Paperless.

School boards and councils should also be encouraged to distribute meeting papers via email or through online blogs to keep the school community up-to-date digitally. It is a cost-effective way to not only save paper but to make sure everyone stays informed.

The technological tools are already at your fingertips to start making your school greener today.

Paperless Office, Paperless School, Paperless Future

The idea of going paperless is nothing new. In fact, BusinessWeek helped coin the term ‘Paperless Office’ way back in 1975. Despite major leaps in technology since then, we’re still largely living in a paper-fuelled world.

The problem doesn’t seem to be getting any better either. According to an OECD environmental report, global production in paper is expected to increase by 77% between 1995 and 2020. The office is one of the main offenders in its reliance on paper but schools have also traditionally been significant consumers. However, budget constraints and environment considerations have meant ever increasing numbers of schools are becoming active in the fight against paper usage.

Despite positive moves to eradicate paper waste in schools, Edutopia estimates that the average classroom uses 25,000 sheets of paper each year, which equates to 833 pieces of paper per student per year.

With so much of what we do and what students do being reliant on paper, going paperless seems a daunting task. However, ditching paper processes is an extremely effective way to streamline processes, and improve efficiency and productivity. Once we take the steps to reverse the processes we’ve put in place and try something new, the time we have saved will be worth the effort.

The issues most schools face in this area are not so much related to the paper used in classrooms. Finding alternative ways of learning can be as simple as replacing textbooks with eBooks, having greater access to computers and being more creative when it comes to educational activities. For most schools, no paper means no paper forms, yet putting a new and efficient system in place can seem like an expensive and impossible task, and filed away in the ‘too hard basket’.


But with governments, businesses, health services and other industries aiming for a paperless future – and pages of articles being written about its benefits both financially and environmentally – it can only be a matter of time before schools follow suit.

In fact, this kind of change can help improve age-weary systems immeasurably. One big complaint from teachers in sending home permission slips is the response rate from parents confirming their child’s attendance is incredibly low; not because they don’t want their child to attend an excursion or field trip but because the forms often go missing.

Moving to an online system can save time, save cost and improve liability management for both schools and parents. Forms exchanged between schools and parents, online enrolment systems for new and prospective students and common internal forms such as professional development forms, incident forms, forms for casual relief teachers and much more can all be handed very effectively in a digital environment.

Other advantages come with streamlining the storage and access of emergency and medical details, and excursions and permissions forms, as well as implementing email and SMS notification systems.

While many have concerns over data security (see our post ‘The Private Lives of Students’), these services should always be held on secured servers – or in the cloud – using the latest and most advanced encryption methods.

The end result is a school that not only saves money by cutting down on the cost of paper but also saves money through increased productivity and efficiency, giving teachers more time to do what they do best: teach.

ParentPaperwork offers a 30-day free trial so schools can experience the benefits of transitioning to a paperless environment firsthand.

Four major benefits for your school to eliminate the paper chase in 2015

Schools are often seen as conservative in their adoption of new process and ideas, but if there is one habit that schools around the world need to kick in 2015 it’s their significant paper consumption.

Even with all the modern ICT tools deployed in schools today staff and students will still use paper for some tasks, but there are significant savings in both time and cost available to schools that transition their paper-based processes to online tools.

For example each year tens of millions of parents sign hundreds of millions of paper forms on behalf of their children or relatives. It’s a labour intensive, unreliable and inefficient process – and there are clear advantages in considering electronic alternatives.

Here are four major benefits for your school to eliminate the paper chase in 2015 as part of the Workload Challenge

Saving money:

Apart from the obvious expense of purchasing paper plus photocopier and printer consumables, most of the time schools don’t realize the hidden costs associated with staff administrators and teachers managing paper trails.

Transitioning paper forms to an online system makes a great deal of sense.

Document retention policies often require schools to archive their paper forms for a considerable number of years – we’ve heard of some schools whose legal advisors have told them to keep their paper forms indefinitely. Over time storage can become a real cost burden, to ensure the paper forms are held securely and safely.

Not only are online forms quicker to fill out and easier to read, staff will can keep them on record without having to worry about damaged or lost forms – with the ParentPaperwork system the data remains available at the click of a mouse for as long as the school decides.

And of course any cost savings can be redirected into teaching time and resources.

Saving time:

Sending out paper forms such as permission slips is extremely time consuming for administrators and teachers. Creating, approving and copying the forms can involve hundreds of pieces of paper and many hours of work. Then there’s all the stress and hassle that follows when students forget or are late to bring back their forms,  causing headaches for the teachers, principals and administrators.

The last thing teachers need is to waste time standing in front of a photocopier, stuff forms into students’ school bags and chasing parents.

ParentPaperwork lets teachers send out their forms with a click of a button. The forms are delivered directly to parents via email, and are tracked and delivery errors noted, so school staff have  confidence forms have reached the parents. Parents are even automatically sent reminders if they are overdue submitting their forms.

Staff can log into ParentPaperwork at any time to view real time reporting about which parents have responded and submitted their forms. Then all the relevant data can be exported into a single spreadsheet file – no more carrying bundles of paper forms on field trips and excursions.

Saving the environment

There are many great opportunities for schools to adopt environmentally friendly practices, and saving paper is a positive way to contribute to ensuring our kids can look forward to a healthy planet for many decades to come.

A school with 2,000 students could be using 80,000 pieces of paper a year just to send forms home to parents – that’s around ten trees a year that need to be sacrificed just so parents can give permission for their children to attend a sports carnival or other school activity! Using online forms will save those trees and set a positive example to students.

Schools can sign up for a free 30 day trial at www.ParentPaperwork.com